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July 2004: Volume 46, Number 7

A Superhighway of Water -- Smooth driving or traffic jams for the industry
by Carlos David Mogollón, WC&P Executive Editor

In this month’s “Executive Q&A” interview, Blue-White Industries’ Robin Gledhill laments the decline of trade shows. A quote from Mark Twain comes to mind: “Rumors of my demise are greatly exaggerated.” Trade shows will never go out of style.

That’s not to say they won’t change. But there’s too much business to be done and they’re a unique business-to-business medium at which players can pursue the exchange of commerce. Still, there are things that can be done to enhance a particular event’s viability. In the end, though, complacency is not an option. There are so many competing events, change is required often just to offer something different and “new.”

The trade show business is like any other. It cannot escape the economic rules of supply and demand. In an expanding market, there are usually plenty of attendees to go around. Thus, the number of trade shows grows. In a declining market, that supply drops and trade shows either adjust expectations until the next upswing in the business cycle, shift gears or look for partners.

To be sure, other factors such as the rise of the Internet--a virtual 24/7 trade show--have arisen to challenge the monopoly trade shows held. It used to be a trade show or trade magazine was the only way for professionals to learn about new technologies, products and services. Not anymore. The Internet has become just another component of doing business. It has its place. So too does the trade show. So too do trade magazines. They’re all part of the mix. And to effectively reach a target audience, a smart business uses each.

WC&P editors and advertising executives attend a plethora of trade events each year, the Water Quality Association’s being the anchor for the magazine’s primary reader--POU/POE water treatment market professionals. And it’s true attendance at some has dropped (Baltimore’s attendees were the fewest in more than 10 years). Explanations vary from business is so good that dealers don’t have time to get away, to the economy is so bad dealers can’t afford to get away. A hard-to-get-to venue. A snowstorm struck. The events of 9/11 had a definite impact.

It used to be said it’s a two-way street and dealers and manufacturers both need to participate. Today, though, it’s more like a freeway with multiple lanes based on different member “section” needs. Each may go at a different speed. In a very general sense, the WQA is a traffic cop, saying who can get on the freeway. It’s had a more expansive perspective understanding more traffic is good. But jams occur when rules guiding traffic on the freeway become unclear, as has been the case with the Internet, more emphasis on commercial/industrial applications and greater interest by mass retail in the market. The WQA’s evolving new strategic plan begun at the 2003 Las Vegas convention attempts to streamline this traffic.

In addition, I’ve always viewed regional associations as on-ramps to the industry. Other industry associations and events, however, also offer a merging of freeways. In a big way, recognition of this resulted in the agreement between WQA and Aquatech RAI to reorganize next year’s trade show and expand the industry’s options to assure greater traffic. This requires greater diplomacy between organizations, which we imagine is under way behind the scenes under the guidance of WQA executive director Peter Censky. A lot hinges on its success and the more input the better. Accessing that input is dependent on a level of openness from all players to make sure the evolution from freeway to superhighway is seamless.